State workers seek double pay for work in snow emergency

Union files grievances on behalf of employees considered essential

March 06, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

Correctional officers stuck in maximum-security prisons for 24 hours at a time during last month's record snowfall, along with other state workers, are seeking double pay for their work while the state of emergency was in effect, a provision their union says is in its contract.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92 filed several class-action grievances last week on behalf of its members who are considered essential employees, including hospital workers and some state highway workers who plowed after 28.2 inches of snow fell.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. declared a state of emergency Feb. 16 and lifted it at 6 p.m. Feb. 23.

The contract states that essential employees are to be paid double under such circumstances, union officials said. The provision was negotiated after the 1996 blizzard, which left them in a similar bind.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun about compensation for state employees who worked during last month's snow emergency was unclear about which employees would be granted administrative leave. Essential employees who could not make it to work from 4 p.m. Feb. 16 to 4 a.m. Feb. 17, while travel on state-owned roads was prohibited, were granted administrative leave. Those who worked during those hours will receive regular pay. The Sun regrets the error.

A Feb. 26 letter to Ehrlich's Cabinet members and agency heads from the Department of Budget and Management reiterates that although the governor declared a state of emergency, provisions had not been made for additional compensation.

"This snow emergency has given us a vivid idea of how Governor Ehrlich is going to treat state workers," said Zachary J. Ramsey, executive director of AFSCME Council 92, which represents 35,000 employees.

The governor's office had not received a formal list of grievances from the union yesterday, Ehrlich spokesman Henry Fawell said, and won't comment until it does.

At an emergency union meeting Tuesday night, Jessup and Baltimore correctional officers told of working nonstop for 16 hours, napping in chairs during short breaks and eating hamburger for three days because they were not allowed to go home.

Officer T. Waller, who did not attend the meeting, said she spent more than 24 hours straight, working two shifts in a row, at the maximum-security Maryland House of Corrections in Jessup.

Prison officials made no sleeping or bathing arrangements for the correctional officers despite prohibiting them from leaving the prison grounds, Waller said. Some officers were so worn out that they slept in their cars during the breaks, she said.

"I wear this uniform, and they tell me to be proud of it," she said. ""Yet there's no respect for correctional officers."

Their consolation, Waller and others said, was that correctional officers would be paid double-time for their efforts during the snowstorm.

"We're not trying to get a thing out of the state that we're not already supposed to get and that we haven't earned," said Lt. Bernard Ralph, president of the AFSCME local that represents about 2,300 correctional employees who work in the Jessup prisons.

"The governor's office has more or less told us to get away," he said.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees state prisons, will grant administrative leave for each hour essential employees worked from 4 p.m. Feb. 16 to 4 a.m. Feb. 17, the period when the governor prohibited travel on state-owned roads.

Beyond that, the department is complying with the state's decision to refrain from additional compensation during the snow emergency, said Jacqueline Lampell, a spokeswoman for the department.

Some correctional officers said the way they were treated during the state of emergency has made them leery about reporting for work during the next one.

"I would not show up," Waller said again and again. "I jeopardized my life, and so did a lot of correctional officers."

Sgt. Debby Keenan, a correctional officer in the canine unit, dug herself out of her snow-covered neighborhood and plodded through three-foot drifts with her narcotics dog, Lucy, to report to work in Jessup during the snow emergency.

"To dig and dig and dig and finally get to work, and then find out you're not being compensated for all your trouble, it's disheartening," she said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.